Calico Joe

Calico Joe by John Grisham

publication date: 2012
pages: 227
ISBN: 978-0-345-54133-8

This was my first John Grisham and it was about what I expected. The book very easily could have been converted into a 1980s flashback movie about kids a la Stand By Me. To illustrate my point, here is the beginning of chapter 2:

In the summer of 1973, the country was slowly emerging from the trauma of Vietnam. Spiro Agnew was in trouble and would eventually go down. Watergate was getting hot with much more to come. I was eleven years old and slightly aware of what was happening out there in the real world, but I was wonderfully unburdened by it. Baseball was my world, and little else mattered.

Can’t you imagine Patrick Dempsey’s voice intoning those words as the camera pans over rolling Arkansas hills just as the beginning credits are over?

As hinted at above, Calico Joe was baseball-centric, which I didn’t mind, and is, in fact, the reason I picked up the book. The baseball writing was often interesting but was sometimes completely unbelievable, although Grisham attempted to back up his characters’ athletic feats with statistics. The whole thing also got a little tedious, even though the book only weighed in at 227 pages. I felt like, if the baseball story was realistic, it would have made a better Grantland article than a Grisham novel.

Additionally, the book was formulaic, with characters only your dad could love, generic dialogue, and anachronistic asides that seemed to be pandering to the stereotype of a Grisham reader. For example, when the narrator meets his despised father’s latest wife, here are his observations:

It doesn’t take much to amuse Agnes, I decide after ten minutes. I wonder if it has crossed her mind that in virtually all polite circles she, as the hostess, is expected to offer me something to drink.

There were so many assumed values in those sentences! What’s wrong with being easily amused? And why couldn’t the father offer his son a drink? In fact, why do drinks need to be offered at all?! If being polite is offering my judgmental sons-in-law beverages, then you can shove your politeness!

With all that said and done, I was surprisingly moved by the ending. I guess that’s why Grisham is so good. He sets up characters, plots, places, and themes that tug at the heart strings just enough to provide a satisfying ending, but not too much as to actually be interesting.

3/6: more good than bad

other reviews of the book:

Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
The Oregonian

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